Ranking all 49 possible matchups

The Super Bowl is coming next month, and here’s what we know: 18 teams won’t be playing in it. (Sorry, Jacksonville.) But 14 teams might be! And that means there are 49 possible combinations of Super Bowl matchups awaiting us. Here, we rank them based on a complex matrix of watchability, star power, talent, and gut feeling. And we begin with, well …

49. Washington vs. Indianapolis: All due respect to the fine fans of these teams, but y’all are the only ones in the country who want to see this matchup.

48. L.A. Rams vs. Cleveland: Who will LeBron root for?

47. Chicago vs. Indianapolis: Super Bowl XLI rematch! Ain’t no Peyton Manning here to save you this time, Colts … though you probably wouldn’t need him anyway.

46. Chicago vs. Cleveland: I thought Michael Jordan already settled this one once and for all.

45. L.A. Rams vs. Indianapolis: Outside of the commercials, I cannot think of a single compelling reason to watch this game.

44. Chicago vs. Buffalo: Play this game in a blizzard, you cowards.

43. Washington vs. Cleveland: The Browns beat the Football Team 34-20, but Washington was ahead late in the third quarter. Which is to say, this wouldn’t be a good game, but it could be a tight one.

42. Chicago vs. Pittsburgh: Shame about COVID and all, the hordes of Bearz and Stillers fans descending on Florida for this game would’ve been far more interesting than anything that would happen on the field.

41. Chicago vs. Baltimore: I would pay good money to watch Lamar Jackson try to outrun Khalil Mack in open space.

40. Washington vs. Tennessee: Chase Young would be a grenade thrown into the smoothly functioning gears of the Titans offense. That alone would make this worth a watch. That. Alone.

39. L.A. Rams vs. Baltimore: What, if anything, did Sean McVay learn from getting whupped by one of the game’s old masters in a previous Super Bowl, and how could he use it to get under John Harbaugh’s skin?

38. Washington vs. Pittsburgh: Hey, remember when Washington smashed Pittsburgh’s perfect record on a Monday afternoon? Nobody saw that one live, so this would be a refreshing change.

37. Tampa Bay vs. Indianapolis: Philip Rivers might just decide he likes it in Florida so much he won’t leave after this game. (He’s old, is the joke we’re going for here.)

36. L.A. Rams vs. Pittsburgh: Super Bowl XIV rematch! Terry Bradshaw would totally come out of retirement to play in this one.

35. Seattle vs. Indianapolis: Watching Pete Carroll and Frank Reich try to out-stunt each other in this game would be amazing. Five trick plays, minimum, and the whole game would turn on one boneheaded coaching call.

34. Washington vs. Baltimore: They should hold this one at the Laurel, Maryland, rest stop off I-95. Clean bathrooms, working vending machines, a doggie relief area — what else do you need for a Super Bowl?

Derrick Henry and the Titans defeated the Bears 24-17 in Week 9. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

33. Chicago vs. Tennessee: The Titans won the first go-round here this season despite a late Bears comeback. There will be no such comeback this time around.

32. Washington vs. Buffalo: Super Bowl XXVI rematch … aka “The Second Fall Of Buffalo,” aka The Thurman Thomas Missing Helmet Game. If this somehow came to pass, the Bills would have a whole lot of rage to work out.

31. L.A. Rams vs. Buffalo: These two had a decent little game back in Week 3, with Buffalo winning 35-32. Scoring won’t be a problem.

30. Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh: Antonio Brown. That’s it. That’s all the entire two-week buildup would focus on. Everybody else could just go home and show up at kickoff.

29. Seattle vs. Cleveland: The Browns have one of the worst pass defenses of any playoff team; let’s just see what happens when Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf decide to test that.

28. L.A. Rams vs. Tennessee: The last time these two franchises met in a Super Bowl, it was one of the finest games in league history, coming down to the final tackle on the final play. That alone is enough to ask for a refill.

27. Washington vs. Kansas City: This would be known as The Super Bowl That Launched A Thousand Thinkpieces On Why Kansas City Should Change Its Name Too. Also: The Alex Smith Bowl.

26. Tampa Bay vs. Cleveland: Remember the scene in that Super Bowl 100 commercial where Brady gets Mayfield to hold his rings? Yeah, Baker would need to hold one more after this.

25. Seattle vs. Pittsburgh: Super Bowl XL rematch! This was a mess of a Seahawks team, unlike the sleek unit of today, whereas the Steelers of that bygone era were … led by Ben Roethlisberger, same as now.

24. Chicago vs. Kansas City: If you know a Bears fan, hug them tight. Because this Super Bowl, as the Bears watch the guy that could have been theirs torch them, could send Chicago fans over the edge.

23. Tampa Bay vs. Baltimore: A battle of the league’s best rushing offense (Ravens) against the best rushing defense (Bucs) ought to be worth watching, yes?

22. L.A. Rams vs. Kansas City: If we get a replay of the regular-season Monday night classic these two played a couple seasons back, this would be the greatest Super Bowl ever.

21. Seattle vs. Tennessee: After a decent little AFC rivalry back in the 20th century, the Titans and Seahawks now run in different orbits, and in fact have only played four times this millennium. Still, this would be a solid game.

20. Green Bay vs. Indianapolis: In one of the more surprising outcomes of the season, the Packers lost in overtime in Week 11 to the Colts, leading to a wave of “are the Packers frauds?” columns. (Spoiler: they were not.)

19. Tampa Bay vs. Tennessee: The Super Bowl is in Tampa Bay. It’s entirely possible that Derrick Henry could run out of the stadium, all the way to Tom Brady’s rented house, through the streets of Ybor City, and back to the stadium without anybody laying a glove on him.

18. Seattle vs. Baltimore: If this came to pass, some poor fool at Super Bowl Media Day is going to ask about the rise of mobile quarterbacks, like it hasn’t been a thing for two decades.

17. Green Bay vs. Cleveland: Play this one in old-school leather helmets, you cowards.

16. Seattle vs. Buffalo: Back in Week 9, Buffalo started putting some heavy dings in Russell Wilson’s halo in a 44-34 win that wasn’t even that close. Revenge game could be fun.

15. New Orleans vs. Indianapolis: Watching Alvin Kamara against one of the stingiest run defenses in the league would definitely be a treat.

14. Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh: Aaron Rodgers-to-Davante Adams three times for TDs in the first half might get even Mike Tomlin to lose his perpetual cool.

13. Tampa Bay vs. Buffalo: How cruel would it be for Buffalo to get their revenge on New England, only to have Tom Brady victimize them in the Super Bowl? Surely the football gods can’t be that evil.

12. New Orleans vs. Cleveland: If only because you feel like Drew Brees would sit Baker Mayfield down at midfield after the game and tell him what he did wrong, and how he can do better next time.

11. Green Bay vs. Tennessee: The Packers utterly blew out the Titans 40-14 in Week 16 in the snow. Sadly for Green Bay, the chance of snow in Tampa is slim at best.

10. Seattle vs. Kansas City: Seattle’s torn-gossamer pass defense against Patrick Mahomes? Yeah, this one might draw an FCC fine for carnage.

9. New Orleans vs. Tennessee: Just tie a rope around the waists of Alvin Kamara and Derrick Henry, put ‘em at midfield and tell them to head for opposite end zones. First one in wins. I’d watch the hell out of that.

8. Green Bay vs. Baltimore: This is a Super Bowl that feels like it should’ve happened already, if only because these two teams have been in the mix for so long.

7. New Orleans vs. Pittsburgh: With Roethlisberger and Brees, this would be the equivalent of those Coachella concerts from a few years back with the Stones, the Who, Bob Dylan et. al.: a celebration of Dad-Rock Football.

6. Green Bay vs. Buffalo: Ever see a Super Bowl where every pass was at least 40 yards? You will here.

5. New Orleans vs. Baltimore: You’d be hard pressed to find two quarterbacks more different than Drew Brees and Lamar Jackson, but that would make this matchup a must-watch.

4. New Orleans vs. Buffalo: The Saints have one of the best pass defenses in the game, and Josh Allen is just out here waiting to test it. This could be the first Super Bowl to hit 200 total points.

3. Tampa Bay vs. Kansas City: Put Brady and Mahomes on the field, and all your ratings woes will be a thing of the past, NFL.

2. Green Bay vs. Kansas City: The Battle of the State Farm Shills. As a rallying cry, that kind of sucks, but this game would be an instant classic. Also a rematch of Super Bowl I, which might be a bit of a selling point.

1. New Orleans vs. Kansas City: Drew Brees in what could be his final game vs. Patrick Mahomes trying to repeat? Yeah, that’ll work for drama.

There you have it. Forty-nine possible outcomes. We’ll definitely get one of ‘em. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

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